FYI: International Drivers Permits

We were once told you can only get your American issued International Driver’s License (IDL) in the States, and can’t renew it if you’re already here. Like many things people say without proof, ‘they’ were wrong.  Here’s how we (legally) drive cars here in Korea without going home for the IDL:

Background information:
International Drivers Permits (IDP) are certificates of your holding a driver’s license in your home country. They are recognized by 70 countries worldwide, and provide you with the equivalent of that country’s license without the need to surrender yours or take tests to acquire a license in that country. This allows you to rent cars, buy cars, and take out insurance. More information on the treaty that created this recognition can be found at this Wikipedia page.

How to get one:

In the USA:
First, you need a driver’s license from your home state. If you’re in the US planning to move to or visit Korea, or any other member nation, you can get an IDP from any American Automobile Association (AAA) location. The cost is about 15 dollars, and all you need is your license and a couple of passport pictures. It took us 15 minutes to get ours.

Outside the USA:
If you’ve been living abroad for more than a year (as we have), your IDP has expired. How to get a new one without a long plane ride? Internet to the rescue! I renewed my permit using a form downloaded from the National Automobile Club, at this website: I downloaded the form, filled it out, and sent it back with passport pictures. They charge a large fee (70 dollars US) to ship it overseas, so to avoid this, put a friend’s name on the application and have them ship it to you.

You need to send a signed photocopy of your US license, two passport photos, and payment information (Check or credit card). To protect against fraud, they do not provide online applications. The envelope left Korea, was processed, the license was sent to my (Mike’s) dad’s house, he sent it to Korea regular shipping, and we had the license in hand 3 weeks later. Easy-peasy.

It was a really simple form that took a minute to fill out, and we had it back in 3 weeks.  It is really easy to get around in Korea with the bus/train service, but we can’t bring the dog on buses and it is a pain to bring him on the trains.  It is so much easier to go camping with a large dog when we rent a car.

There are other websites online that will provide IDP’s, as a simple Google search will return. However, there are only two organizations endorsed by the US Department of state to issue the IDP: AAA and the National Auto Club. Beware imitations.

Other options:
You can also get a Korean driver’s license.  You need to go to the embassy in Seoul or Busan in person and have your US issued license verified.  Then you can take the document and the license to a Korean DMV and take the driver’s exam. That would have required several days off of work for us to go to Seoul  for document A and to Naju for the test.  All in all, the IDL was faster and has the same effect. Plus, we’re not sure what effect that has on getting your driver’s license back when you return to the states. You’d probably need to call your home state’s DMV for that information.

Whichever license you choose, there are some major differences in driving here. The DMV has a list of road signs that will make it easier to get where you’re going. Many destinations are written in Korean and English, but a lot of the signs are just in Korean. Drivers are a bit insane. And there are also numerous camera speed traps, so keep your foot light on the pedal, Speed Racer!

side note: we live in a port town and it is really easy to bring Remi on the ferry and go camping on the islands. Oh, and since we aren’t gonna put up a pic of our license, enjoy a pic of Remi on the ferry. Can’t go wrong with a dog picture!

Update! Looks like the government will be issuing IDLs at police stations now.

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